Archive for the ‘We Recommend’ Category

A Journey Through Southern Spain

Friday, November 8th, 2013

_DSC6039_1140H. Rafael Chacón is Professor of Art History and Criticism at The University of Montana-Missoula where he lectures on a broad range of art historical subjects. He received his doctorate in art history with honors from the University of Chicago, having been awarded numerous research fellowships to study in Europe, including an award from the Spanish Ministry of Culture for his dissertation on Michelangelism in renaissance sculpture. He has written on a range of topics related to renaissance and baroque art, both in Europe and in the Americas, most recently focusing on Spanish-style revival architecture in the U.S. northwest during the late 19th century. In 2002, he completed the full pilgrimage from France to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain and in 2010 one of the four principal routes across southern France leading to the “camino.” Dr. Chacón has led numerous successful travel abroad trips with students and has been a speaker for the Smithsonian Journeys program.


The evening sun is casting long shadows across the vast Andalusian plain and from the vantage point, high on the balcony of the Parador in Carmona, it is easy to contemplate the rich history of the Iberian peninsula. It is autumn, yet the air is still warm and redolent with the scent of boxwood. It is also harvest time and row after row of the silvery blue olive trees hang dense with the promise of another season. Gold begins to tinge the leaves in the vineyards also ready for harvest. In the distance, we see thin wisps of smoke as farmers clear brush and prepare their fields for the rainy season still to come. Portugal-and-Spain-2013-188515

From this perch, it is easy to imagine the thunderous sounds of horses’ hooves on the plain and the clang of steel as armies of Romans, Visigoths, Arabs, and Christians clashed over centuries to seize the promontories and thus take control of these precious agricultural lands. The very stones we have tread on our walk around the charming town of Carmona evoke Roman soldiers marching across ancient Hispania and merchants haggling over the prices of fruits and vegetables: “No thank you, Tullius! Your oranges are much too bitter, only good for decorating the garden or marinating that suckling pig I intend to roast next week!” Today’s faithful enter churches populated by the subtly carved saints and richly embroidered tapestries of renaissance- and baroque-era bishops, but whose foundations were laid by Visigothic kings or Moorish emirs.Portugal-and-Spain-2013-187515
In fact, as we enter through the horseshoe arches of the gates of our parador, once a fortified palace, and walk past the courtyard with its lovely portico of slender marble columns, patterned stucco walls, and bubbling fountains, we cannot help but think of the Moorish kings who built and defended these very walls and spaces for centuries or of King Pedro I, whose love of Islamic ornament guaranteed that mudejar workers would continue to elaborate and expand the palace after it fell into the hands of Christian conquerors.Portugal-and-Spain-2013-183515
But now as the sun begins to set, we finish sipping our glass of sherry from the nearby Jerez region; it is time to retire and our minds turn to the gifts of art and culture that this amazing peninsula will reveal to us tomorrow.


To learn more about our Treasures of Southern Spain and Portugal tour, click here.

When in Venice, Sip a Bellini (Hemingway Did)

Friday, March 1st, 2013


Next time you are out for brunch, or even better, grabbing a cocktail in Venice, order a Bellini!  Originally concocted in Venice, Italy sometime between 1934 and 1948 by Giuseppe Cipriani (the founder of Harry’s Bar), the Bellini’s popularity won it a permanent place on the menu, after having been originally created as a seasonal drink. It got its name from Giovanni Bellini, the fifteenth century Venetian painter who used a color pink that Cipriani thought was recreated in his cocktail.

Image source: Wikipedia

Image source: Wikipedia

Among the famous customers to frequent Harry’s Bar and sip on a Bellini made by Giuseppe Cipriani, are Charlie Chaplin, Barbara Hutton, Orson Welles, Truman Capote, and of course Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway was writing Over the River and Into the Trees while staying in Venice and mentions Harry’s Bar many times. When told that Hemingway gave Cipriani and his bar free promotion, he responded “It was me and my bar that promoted him.  They gave him the Nobel prize afterwards, not before.”

Image source: Wikipedia

Image source: Wikipedia

When traveling to Venice these days, you can still stop off at Harry’s Bar, order a Bellini, and imagine the days when such visionary minds of the last century frequented the tables around you. A Bellini at Harry’s Bar goes for approximately 18 Euros, but if you are just looking to be able to say you had a Bellini in Venice, you can get a non-alcoholic version in a bottle at the train station for a mere 2 Euros. But beware; it doesn’t have as much history packed into the taste!

If you want to bring a bit of Italy to your brunch table, try the original recipe from Harry’s Bar!


Ready to plan a getaway to Venice?  Travel with us and explore the ins and outs of this beautiful and magical city. Learn more about our Hidden Venice tour here.

Travel Book: Rome – by Robert Hughes

Friday, November 11th, 2011

Rome - Robert Hughes cover imageWith his book Rome:  A Cultural, Visual, and Personal History, art critic Robert Hughes shares a wide-ranging, inclusive, and deeply personal history of Rome— its life as city, heart of an empire, and, as the site of the beginnings of what we now call Western art and civilization.

Hughes begins by taking us to the Rome he first met at the tender age of twenty-one, fresh from Australia in 1959. From there, he journeys back more than two thousand years to the city’s foundation, steeped in mythology and superstition that sewed the seeds of Rome’s development.

Traveling through the centuries, Hughes investigates the modern era, from Mussolini to La Dolce Vita, to today’s age of technology and tourism.

Spend the weekend with Hughes in Rome, or journey there yourself on our tours to Italy.

The 150th Anniversary of the Civil War

Thursday, July 28th, 2011

This year is the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War, which began at Bull Run in Manassas, Virginia early on the morning of July 21, 1861.

The Smithsonian is honoring the sesquicentennial of the Civil War in numerous ways, some of them listed here:

Our official Civil War 150th web experience is located here and includes several online exhibitions, educational resources, and links to podcasts, events, blogs, and more.

We’ve also honored the occasion with a special Smithsonian Book – The Civil War – A Visual History.

We’re partnering with the Chautauqua Institution to bring you a week of Civil War programming with leading Civil War scholars at the historic campus in western New York State.

On our Journey through Hallowed Ground, follow the Civil War from Charlottesville to Gettysburg with Civil War expert Study Leader A. Wilson Greene, Executive Director of the National Museum of the Civil War Solider.

Join us next June for an exclusive tour of Civil War sites here in the Washington, DC, area on War Comes to Washington – 1862, where you’ll also discover the unique role the Smithsonian played during the War.

On a lighter note, vote for your favorite display of Civil War facial hair and learn more about the historic contestants in our contest.

Small Group Travel with Smithsonian

Friday, July 1st, 2011

Bruce Epstein is President of Odysseys Unlimited, one of our esteemed travel partners specializing in small group travel, talks with Smithsonian Journeys staff member MaryBeth Mullen about these exciting opportunities.  We look forward to welcoming you on a Smithsonian Small Group tour in the near future.


Bruce Epstein with a Lion.

Bruce Epstein with a Lion.

MaryBeth Mullen: How is Small Group travel different from other escorted tours?

Bruce Epstein:  The small group tours designed for Smithsonian travelers are specifically for groups of just 16 to 24 guests, which enables guests to move about more flexibly and efficiently, enjoy more spontaneous encounters, and experience a degree of freedom and independence not available to travelers on conventional group tours of 35 or 40 participants. We offer the best of both worlds: the value, ease, and comprehensive itinerary of a group tour, and the freedom, flexibility, quality, and service that independent travelers demand, and deserve.  Additionally, our small groups often have the opportunity to stay in small, unique lodgings that offer a remarkable sense of place not generally available with conventional tours.

MBM: What are some of the most popular destinations?

BE:  Smithsonian travelers have taken advantage of small group tours to virtually all corners of the globe. While some travel patterns do change over time, especially with the recent happenings in the Middle East and North Africa, some destinations continue to generate strong interest within Smithsonian’s circle of travelers.  These include France, Turkey, Spain and Portugal, Peru, China, Southern Africa, India, and Scandinavia.

MBM: On Smithsonian trips, there are a team of experts who enrich the travel experience, and a tour director that travelers depend on to handle logistics.  Is this also included on Small Group tours?

BE: Yes – on each small group tour, guests enjoy the benefits of having an expert, experienced tour director as well as a Smithsonian expert. The two work closely together to provide you with a memorable travel experience integrated with great educational elements.

MBM: On average, how many nights are travelers in a location?  Essentially, how active are these trips? 

BE: Each of our tours is custom-designed specifically for small groups, with a balanced mix of traveling, sightseeing, and cultural encounters. We make sure we set aside time for you to explore on your own or simply to relax. Guests are assured of seeing the highlights – and also the unexpected. And because we generally spend at least two nights in most places and in many cases three or four, you’ll be able to fully discover destinations, as a traveler, not a tourist.

MBM: With only 16-24 guests, do these trips tend to fill quickly? 

BE:  Since no two travelers are alike, the planning process varies among travelers.  Some plan more than a year in advance while some only a few months. However, many of Smithsonian’s small group tours do fill fairly quickly so, to have the best chance of garnering preferred travel dates, we recommend an initial reservation at least 8-10 months in advance. 

Ready to go? Click here to see all of our small group tours.

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